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21 Jun 2007

Play of The Day: Shotgun Fake Option Seamer

by Mike Tanier

Shotgun-option offenses are in vogue at all levels of college football. At Utah and Florida, Urban Meyer designed offenses that successfully married spread formations with option principles. At Texas, Mack Brown used similar tactics to make his team national champions and Vince Young a superstar. Shotgun option plays became more common in the NFL last season, as teams used new strategies to take advantage of mobile quarterbacks like Young and Michael Vick. We want some of these plays in the Football Outsiders playbook. Today, we'll install one; we'll name it Shotgun Fake Option Seamer. The Titans executed this play against the Redskins last season.

The situation: First-and-10, ball on the Redskins 43, second quarter, Titans trailing 14-3 but driving. The Titans line up in a shotgun formation, single setback to Vince Young's left, slot left, tight end on the right side of the formation (Figure 1). The Redskins stay in their 4-3 base personnel package despite the three-wideout look. Linebacker Warrick Holdman aligns over slot receiver Drew Bennett. The Redskins cornerbacks are about seven yards off the ball. The safeties are too deep to be seen on the television replay. The pre-snap read suggests zone coverage; there's no defender covering the tight end, and Holdman on Bennett is a mismatch. This is probably a Cover-3 of some sort, but the Titans' clever play call makes it hard to determine what defense the Redskins were running.

Figure 1: Shotgun Fake Option Seamer

At the snap, running back Travis Henry steps in to take a handoff from Young. All linemen except left tackle Michael Roos slide right and execute run blocks. Roos drops in pass protection, creating a gap between left guard and tackle. The Titans appear to be running a draw play. Right receiver Brandon Jones simply shuffles off the line; he's not involved in the play. Bennett drives hard to the sidelines. Left receiver Roydell Williams releases inside as if he is going to block Holdman.

Young play-fakes to Henry, who plunges into the B-gap on the left side. Young bootlegs left. The Titans now appear to be running a shotgun option: Williams seems to be blocking down, Bennett appears to be drawing coverage to the sideline, and Young certainly has the athleticism to cause trouble if he breaks containment. Holdman steps up to avoid Williams' block. The Redskins cornerback races into position to disrupt an outlet pass to Bennett and force Young back to the inside if he tries to run up the sidelines.

Suddenly, Young stops just wide of the tackle box. Williams, who never really engaged Holdman, turns upfield. There's a huge hole in the coverage between Holdman and the cornerback (drawn in to stop Young) and the safeties. Young's quick release makes this play possible. He tosses the ball to Williams 10 yards down the field just before the Redskins safety arrives. Williams puts a move on the safety and gains 10 more yards before going down.

Figure 2: Standard Shotgun Option

The beauty of this play is the multiple bind it imposes on the defense. The Redskins were forced to prepare for a Henry draw, a Young bootleg, and a Bennett pass into the flat. The play they got was the one they expected the least. This play is really the capstone of a shotgun option sequence that features the draw, bootleg, and Bennett pass, plus perhaps a Jones screen to the far side, a wheel route by Bennett, and other plays. Figure 2 shows a common spread-option play, the kind that Texas might have run five or six times per game when Young was in college. It's a simple play, built around one read. The quarterback watches the first defender left of the left tackle's outside shoulder. If he blitzes, the quarterback hands off. If he drops into coverage or keys on the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs behind the slot receiver's block. The Redskins were ready for a play like that. They weren't ready for what Norm Chow cooked up that week.

Pro teams can't run spread-option all of the time: defenders are just too fast, and they'll clobber the quarterback if he gets too rollout happy (see the Falcons in the second half of last season for proof). But if we mix a few of these plays into our game plan every week, defenders will spend much more time thinking and reacting than attacking.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 21 Jun 2007

30 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2007, 6:36pm by xmenehune


by Brian (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:27pm

This is fun, I'm glad you found something interesting to write about during the offseason.

Can't wait to see the promised analysis of the Colts' no-huddle; I think their offense is historically good and I'd like to learn more about how it works.

by Strange/David (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:28pm

First? Really?

And: it's plays like this by Norm Chow that make Colts fans like me tremble in fear.

Two questions, though... first, why was 86 labeled as a number when everyone else got position letters? Is this a standard thing to do for the receiver who'll actually get the ball?

Second, when it's being explained, I felt that it was a little tricky to keep track of the players; I had to keep referencing earlier paragraphs to keep up, and I'm not just a casual fan... so my second question is to other readers: were you as slowed down as I was by reading names instead of positions? Or is that just more inexperience on my part?

by Strange/David (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:29pm

Ooooh. Not first.

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:54pm

#2: Yeah, it's tough associating the players to the diagram without having to go back and forth. It makes me either want an imagemap with alt tags or an actual animated gif doing the play as it happens.

These are still one of my favorite parts of this site.

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 2:01pm

Nice breakdown, Mike.

I think the reason #86 Williams was labeled and slot WR #83 Bennett was not was so they could more easily be differentiated, but that's just a guess.

One thing that help set up this play is that the previous week, in the Titans' surprisingly close loss against the Colts, they had run enough Shotgun Read-Option (Mike's Fig. 2) for you to think VY was still at Texas, and done so pretty successfully (the Titans' sole TD that game came on a VY run off read-option, for example). As the year went on, though, the read-option mostly disappeared from the Titans' playbook. My impression, also, is that as the read-option disappeared, they started to bootleg less out of shotgun, and perhaps more out of non-shotgun formations, though I haven't added up tendencies.

by Bradam (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 2:54pm

brilliant articles. you could stop the whole website and just release these articles and i would be happy!

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 3:03pm

I really hope that Vince Young can develop the ability to be a pocket passer. I dont want him to be solely one but can you imagine a QB with a football IQ like Manning,Brees,Brady etc, with the type of athleticism of Vick/Young? It truly would be scary.

These articles are great BTW, the only suggestion would be to have the numbers instead of the positions and when you first say the player put their numbers in parentheses and it would be much easier to follow. Keep up the good work!

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 3:52pm

#2 --

All of last summer's strategy minicamps, and yesterdays, I had to really REALLY take my time, to read, but for some reason this one did not take nearly as long to wrap my head around. Dunno why.

by R. Moss (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 4:16pm

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Brandon Jones just shuffles off the line becasue he's not involved in the play?!?

This guy is obviously a terrible teammate and no doubt a cancer on the whole organization. He'll never get to play for the Patriots with an attitude like that.

by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 4:35pm

re: 7

Super-athletic, super-smart quarterbacks: John Elway? Steve Young?

I can see why these plays have to be rare ones. They narrow the field a lot, and when that happens, speed makes up for more and more mistakes.

Imagine how much more like college football the NFL would be if the field were ten yards wider.

by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 5:22pm

#10: "Super-athletic, super-smart quarterbacks: John Elway? Steve Young?"

Donovan McNabb? Jeff Garcia??

by db (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 5:57pm

"super smart"? I don't think Vick or Mr. 6 Wonderlic Young are ever going to be defined as super smart.

by David C (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 6:25pm

Hopefully as he gets more experience, Young'll be able to do even more in those situations. If the diagram is accurate, the corner didn't even step up to engage Jacobs (like he was sitting back in a zone). The outside linebacker was too far inside to be any help. Young could've easily hit Jacobs wide right for 5 yards without having to worry about whether the Safety would step up to guard Williams or not.

by David C (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 6:27pm

Don't know why I'm typing Jacobs. I meant Jones.

by Skin Patrol (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 6:30pm


But Sean Taylor was on that side of the field, and he's so fast he would have transported to Jones and batted the ball away.

by Sam (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 8:55pm

2 (strange/david):

It's plays like this that make me furious with the Jaguars for not attempting to lure Chow to Jacksonville. They assumed he would not be interested in an NFL job (I believe the rumor was that Caroll was coming back to the NFL soon and Chow was being groomed to take his place). They hired his QB coach Carl Smith, who lasted what, a year? Smith was unable to properly evaluate the strengths and abilities of his offense and to gameplan according to them or the weaknesses of the opposing defense. And if they had been willing to cough up the cash, they probably could have had Chow.

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 3:25am


Animated GIFs of every Play Of The Day=the bestest thing ever :-)


Same here. Although the first one this year was fairly easy to follow as well. This one seems much less involved though because there's no presnap motion. If Player X does one thing, you do this. If he does something else, you do that. Nice and simple.


Wow, I found myself thinking of Randy Moss too. Although something tells me Jones doesn't just do that whenever he feels like it :-)

by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 6:41am

As mentionned, there could be a bubble for Jones out of this play, so the D has to be used to see him stay near the line of scrimmage doing nothing in order to be surprised when the ball comes to him with maybe ten yards in front of him without any defender. See, VY can fake the hand-off and throw it to Jones who could run behind the TE. The OL slanted, so we can assume the OLB is out, the TE is free to chase the first DB he locks, and then, it's one-on-one.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 10:33am

Part of the success of the play is that VY only has to make reads on half the field (the roll out), and then to two receivers. Chow cuts the field in half, so it does make the reads alot easier. I'm not saying VY is stupid, but that low Wonderlic, well, makes me wonder. He's young though, and with good instincts he'll develop the mental skills for it. Contrast with Vick, who checks down only to Crumpler, and then its off to the races.

Great article.

To me it looks like the Skins had the wrong package on the field, and should have went nickel. More than anything, this play exploited the fact that the defense had the wrong personnel on the field.

by AmbiantDonkey (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 11:45am

I'm pretty sure if the 'skins had went nickel they would have to have put Mike Rumph on the field. Best to stick with the base personnel.

by daddymag (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 11:53am

Does it matter what package the Skins are in? If they go nickel then it's a DB on Bennett. Whoever is in that spot, he has to make the same read-and-react. If he turns and runs with the receiver, then VY has a clear running lane.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 12:29pm

When VY breaks into the open field, I'd be more confident that a DB not named Mike Rumph would be able to catch him, moreso than a linebacker, especially a linebacker named Warrick Holdman. I would argue that a linebacker, even a cover two LB, is still a mismatch on WR, and is just asking to get burned, which is what happened.

Nonentheless, its a well-designed offensive play. I think had a nickel defense been on the field, the assignment for the nickel CB would have been more clear than it was for the WILL. Holdman has to judge at the snap where to slide over, inside the box to stop the runner, or pick up the receiver, whose coming right at him. Even if Holdman were to drop back into zone, he'd still probably bite on the fake hand-off. The personnel on the field had the result of leaving Holdman with the option of picking up four different players, 2 receivers, the RB, and the QB. He really can't make a right read, since that would require everyone else to make the right read coinciding with what he decides to do.

Like the best offensive plays, it creates mass confusion and capitalizes on mismatches.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 12:50pm

Nonentheless, its a well-designed offensive play. I think had a nickel defense been on the field, the assignment for the nickel CB would have been more clear than it was for the WILL. Holdman has to judge at the snap where to slide over, inside the box to stop the runner, or pick up the receiver, whose coming right at him. Even if Holdman were to drop back into zone, he’d still probably bite on the fake hand-off. The personnel on the field had the result of leaving Holdman with the option of picking up four different players, 2 receivers, the RB, and the QB. He really can’t make a right read, since that would require everyone else to make the right read coinciding with what he decides to do.

The right move for Holdman would be to get his hands on Williams and put him on his ass. At that point he could play contain, and probably make Young pull the ball down.

by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 12:57pm

Briggs and Urlacher can cover receivers in a zone (I'm pretty sure the Bears never have more than 5 DBs on the field, unless the game is over and they are trying to give Devin Hester some experience).

by Sam B (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 5:05pm

nice post.

i also often have to refer backwards and forward to work out which player is doing what.

i think the easiest thing would be to refer to all players by their position and name, e.g. WLB Holdman.

by Vern (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 5:34pm

I agree on the use of position+name every time (instead of constantly scrolling up to see who Holdman was again).

Also, I vote for animated gif - in particular, one with a "regular QB" vs. "Vince Young" in the play. It's very hard to visualize why this "only" works for certain types of players (except the obvious stuff like some QB's are zero run threat). For example, for the defense to defeat this play, what kind of LB and CB are the best: Fast/aggressive, disciplined/sure tackler?

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 6:15pm

23: "The right move for Holdman would be to get his hands on Williams and put him on his ass."

Obviously, you haven't seen Warrick Holdman try to take on a block recently.

by NY expat (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 7:34pm

Thanks for the article, Mike. Looking at the options on the play, it seems like none of the options is for a deep pass, and it sounds like if the safeties had just moved up a few yards, the play gets stopped or at least Williams is tackled immediately after catching the ball. Is there something I'm not seeing?

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Sat, 06/23/2007 - 3:08pm


Or maybe that play just isn't called or run if the safeties are too close. That's what I assumed anyway.

by xmenehune (not verified) :: Sat, 06/23/2007 - 6:36pm

#15 Sean Taylor was heavier last year I believe I read somewhere that he's lost near 20 lbs this yr (spring '07)

and oh yeah Norm Chow a thorn in Hawaii's side as BYU's OC for oh so many years before the WAC split into MWC and WAC. I'm glad he getting recognition for using the skills of his players.